Taking Stem And Tip Cuttings

You can have new plants for almost nothing by taking cuttings. It involves little time and equipment – and it’s fun too! Not only is it fun to make new plants from stem cuttings, but sometimes taking a cutting may be the only way to obtain a particular plant, especially if it’s one not commonly available at your local garden centre. If you’re offered a cuffing, bring it home and with a little equipment and some patience you will soon have a replica of the plant. When you grow from a cutting you can be sure that your plant will be exactly like the parent plant. When you grow from seed there is the chance that not every plant will be like the parent, nor will all the seedlings be like each other.

stem cuttings

The cuttings

Stems of plants are very soft and full of sap when young, particularly at what is called the growing tip. After a few days or weeks of growth the stem starts to toughen up. Several weeks later it becomes semi-woody or woody. Cuttings taken from some plants root more quickly if you use the softer parts. Some are slow to root and even refuse to root when young growth is used. Instead they root easily when the growth is woodier. Really soft growth is often too full of sap to make roots and instead it rots.

You should only take cuttings from healthy plants that are free of pests and diseases. If you are propagating a flowering plant take the cutting from a part of the plant that has no flower buds. If this is impossible remove all the flowerbuds when you prepare the cutting.


Follow the instructions below for rooting and planting up the cuttings. During the rooting process check to see if any of the cuttings show signs of rotting. If so, open up the bag or remove the propagator lid and take out the cutting. Alternatively, when you see new top growth you can safely assume that the rooting has started or is well under way. Gradually acclimatize the cuttings to room temperatures by removing the propagator lid or opening the bag for a few hours each day.

When the cuttings seem well established, treat them as plants in their own right and repot into individual pots using the correct potting mixture for that particular plant. Give them a little extra shade for a few weeks and do not apply any fertilizer for about 6 weeks. Then treat them as mature plants.

Taking cuttings

  • Select the section of plant to use as a cutting, then cut it off cleanly with a sharp knife. Make the cut immediately above a pair of leaves or a single leaf.
  • Trim the cutting by cutting it just below a leaf or pair of leaves. It is at these leaf junctions or nodes that the roots are usually made. Trim off lower leaves.
  • To speed up rooting and cut down risk of infection, dip the cut end in hormone rooting powder. Shake off any excess and then pot up the cutting.
  • Plant several cuttings together around the edge of a pot using a rooting mixture of equal parts peat and coarse sand or Perlite. Provide bottom heat.
  • Enclose the pot and cuttings in a clear polythene bag. Use thin canes to prevent polythene from touching cuttings.
  • Instead of polythene you can use a propagator with a lid. In both cases keep the rooting mixture just moist.

Rooting methods

  • Take cuttings and stand them in water. After 2-3 weeks pot up the cuttings. Suitable plants are Ivies, Swedish Ivy and Busy Lizzie.
  • Dip the end of the cutting in hormone rooting powder, then insert into pot of gel. When rooted, pot up. Suitable for softwood cuttings only.
  • Dip the end in hormone rooting powder to speed up the rooting process. Shake off any excess and then pot up the cutting in a suitable rooting mixture.


How do I tell if the cuttings I have taken have made roots?

The first clue is that there is some obvious new top growth. Next, if you very gently pull at the cutting, there should be some resistance. This indicates that the new roots are holding the cutting in the rooting mixture.

Does a hormone rooting powder or gel help with rooting?

Yes. It helps speed up the process, and as there is a fungicide in the powder or gel, the chances of infection by fungus are reduced.

How long should a stem cutting be?

This depends on the plant being propagated. Normally there should be at least 3 nodes.

How can I ensure that I will have success with my cuttings?

All the time the cutting is without its own roots it is at considerable risk from drying out or from rotting. Give a cutting warmth, high humidity and a just moist and well-aerated rooting mixture and you may possibly have roots in 3-4 days.

Is it really necessary to go to all the trouble of trimming a cutting?

Yes. Practically all plants can only make roots at a node, the point where a leaf joins the stem. If you just take off any piece of stem, the part beyond the node will rot and that could mean infection to the cutting.

Plants to try

Plants that can easily be propagated by stem and tip cuttings are:

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